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A new way of looking at accessible mobility

As we move towards more climate conscious infrastructure, there’s been a big drive towards micro-mobility. Many cities are outright banning vehicles that are not compliant to environmental standards, and are looking towards pedestrianised spaces, bike lanes and public transport to solve transportation issues. This has a major impact on those with accessibility issues. Having worked on a variety of vehicles, from four-person commercial vehicles, to pick-up trucks, to heavy goods vehicles, FutureMotiv were asked to support this project by Centaur Robotics to think smaller, and create a modern spin on accessible mobility with the self-balancing 2-wheeled chair, The Centaur, a revolutionary advancement to the traditional wheelchair.

The first self-propelled wheelchair was built in 1655 and was made up of three wheels, two in the back and the front one propelled by a hand crank, and for 300 over years, not much really changed. The ‘standard’ design used across the world now, came from a folding wheelchair used in hospitals in the 1950s, and in 70 years what has changed? Replacing the cogs and cranks of the 17th Century with motors assisted those with more challenging mobility issues, but accessibility still played a difficult role for those living in and with a wheelchair.

That’s where Centaur Robotics come in. They came to us with a sleek, modern design for a wheelchair suitable for the 21st century. The goal was to create a self-balancing, autonomous wheelchair that is functional in spaces traditionally seen as challenging for wheelchairs to navigate. But it wasn’t just about use; many people refuse mobility assistance options like wheelchairs or mobility scooters because of how they’re perceived by society, so it was important to make sure that the design remained subtle and stylish; and that lesser addressed issues like height, be it in reaching shelves or simply having a conversation, could be solved as well.

FutureMotiv has made a big impact when it comes to building vehicles with a much smaller carbon footprint and using our expertise in electric vehicle systems to impact not just people’s lifestyles, but their mental health, was a great opportunity to see how that knowledge translated to the smaller scale.

FutureMotiv’s focus on the project was to, in the words of our Systems and Controls engineer “make this thing alive, put a soul in it.” An early key factor we knew we had to address was the desire to keep the two wheeled design. In the last decade we have seen huge strides in parallel wheeled transportation, but products like Segway or the hoverboard rely on the user to balance the vehicle. With a focus on accessibility, our goal became creating a vehicle that could balance itself.

Beyond factoring in travelling on inclines and declines, and steering, designing something accessible came with its own challenges. We needed a system that adapts to its occupant and developing the control algorithm that solved this issue was the make-or-break moment for this project.

In addition, the application of automotive functional safety and high integrity redundant architectures was a significant contribution to this project.

Balancing The Centaur’s practical uses with its stylish design was a challenge, but we like to be challenged. Our experience working in a variety of sectors within the automotive industry left us with a lot of skills and knowledge that came in useful when condensing those things down to the micro-mobility market and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for those with accessible needs as more people look to where improvements can be made.

Getting the opportunity to make a positive impact is why we love what we do at FutureMotiv. Clients who come with big ideas and an open mind can shift an entire industry into the future, and we want to be the ones to help them get there, whether for accessible mobility options, or for the transport industry in general.